E3: Castlevania: Lament of Innocence

May 15, 2003 3:26 AM PST

To hell with Nagoya and Sonia, apparently. Igarashi's annoyance with all matters Kobe is as clear as it is well-publicized, but I'm not really sure what his problem is with Dark Night Prelude (or Castlevania Legends, if you're so inclined).

The game wasn't exactly amazing, but neither were its two Gameboy predecessors. Then there's the whole Sonia thing. We've never had another female Belmont. Then there's the Alucard thing; he being the probable father of Trevor helps set up the rest of the series rather poignantly (especially if you realize that Nocturne in the Moonlight was supposed to be a finale of sorts).

Nevertheless, Sonia is out and Leon is in; another game, another Belmont. A new origin. Again.

As much as I like Sonia, I can't really argue with Leon. This guy is sleek. He controls well. He's the best brawler in the entire series. More importantly, his game is interesting.

Essentially, Lament of Innocence is the evolution of the classic Konami brawler that the new Turtles game should have been. It's fast, tight, varied, stylish, and generally involving to play.

This game isn't kidding with its time period; just as the Dracula X series sees Juste, Richter, and Alucard garbed in colonial-era clothing, Leon is Mister Medieval.

The game progresses on a room-by-room basis. You kill everything in sight, do a bit of platforming, or solve a brief puzzle in order to unlock the door to the next section. Each room is a swift and satisfying bite.

As weird as it might seem, this kind of a fighting game seems entirely appropriate. If you think a bit about how the typical Igarashi-style Castlevania hero might fight in the real world, against smothering hordes of the undead, he would be forced into some rather extreme -- if elegant -- group fight tactics.

Indeed, Leon feels very much like Juste out of Harmony of Dissonance. He's nimble, strong, classy, and a little magically-inclined. (Why this is so, considering the fact that the Belmont propensity toward magery stems from the union of Trevor and Sypha Belnades, has yet to be explained.)

There's one face button for light attack; one for hard attack; one for jump; one for item. One of the triggers is for guarding; another is for spell fusion. R3 brings up an item menu. You've got a double jump and combos out the smooth wazoo.

Hit light attack twice and then follow with strong, in order to snap a gale of wind at your enemies. Jump toward an enemy, whip two or thrice with the weak button -- causing Leon to momentarily hover in mid-air -- and follow with strong, for a powerful flaming kick to the ground.

The secondary items seem to have all been readjusted to work well in a 3D environment. The traditional cross now circles around Leon, forming a protective barrier. The crystal now acts as a powerful land mine of a sort.

The boss I fought is a clever boss indeed. The item system works well to spice up and complicate what would otherwise seem a linear jaunt. The fighting is taken to the forefront as nearly the entire substance of gameplay -- and yet the fighting is damned enjoyable. This is one of those games -- like Gradius V -- which sets up a sort of a perpetual motion loop. The more one plays, the more intriguing the game becomes; the more it inspires a person to keep going.

Lament of Innocence is a small game in comparison to the likes of Symphony of the Night or the recent GBA efforts -- but intentionally and successfully so, at least from what's been shown so far.

Further, it's an obvious experiment. Igarashi wants to do things right; he has been quoted as revealing that before he makes his next huge epic, he intends to produce two quick action games -- to try to work out the right feel for a 3D Castlevania.

Taken in that light, there's just about nothing I can see to complain about in this demo. LoI is probably one of the three or four most impressive games I've played at E3 thus far.

Eric-Jon Waugh